You Showed Us Love: Reflections on Jinja
Sara Rosenblatt and Jamie McCormick, both students at SUNY Geneseo, spent two months in Jinja this summer and share their experience with us.
“This was my first time ever in Africa,” Sara says. “My initial impression was how beautiful! I loved the lush greenery and red dirt roads. Despite how many times I had been told what a hard adjustment it would be, I thought it may not be as profound as everyone had said. This, of course, changed after moving into my host house and away from the main city several days into the trip.
"My host family was one of the hardest elements to adjust to,” Sara admits. “I felt very much like an outsider for the first month of my stay. After about halfway through my stay things started getting a lot better. I could always look forward to tea time with my host mom and sister while we watched our favorite Indian soaps and I became very close with my five-year-old sister.”
Jamie's immersion was smooth from the start. "My host family was the most influential part of my experience. During the entire two-and-a half months, I felt like a member of their family—I was their daughter, their sister, their niece. They treated me like one of their own. They truly believed that I could blend into their family and become a Ugandan. They were just great!" she smiles.
Jamie's favorite time in her host family's house? "Every weekend, when we would have family dinners outside, we would talk about politics, environments, and sports. I got to know what it was like in a developing country and my host dad liked to hear about my perspective as an American, and we definitely got to form a bond. We come from two completely different places but have so much in common!” Jamie believes.
Sara and Jamie worked with the Inganga Islamic Medical Center (IIMC), a leading HIV/AIDS treatment center in Iganga. Sara and Jamie conducted a community assessment and realized that many women who had been diagnosed HIV+ did not return to IIMC to receive their free medication. Community members and medical staff expressed that a lack of economic funds often prevented patients from traveling back to the center, even though the life-saving treatment was free.
Sara notes that their “project aimed to ease the burden of transportation cost for HIV+ women so that they could get to the medical center to receive their free treatment. We provide them a goat farm as a means of subsidizing these travel costs. In the short term, we taught these women key strategies and techniques to ensure their goats remain healthy, and that they are successful in breeding and selling. We also taught them the importance of long-term investment in this venture.”
“Margaret (Nassozi Amanyire, FSD Jinja Program Director), exhibited the perfect amount of interaction with our work. When Jamie and I had a rough start with our host organization, she stepped in to make sure things ran more smoothly and that our colleagues more thoroughly understood the purpose of our being there. Aside from that, Margaret and Jonan (Nandolo, FSD Jinja Local Program Coordinator) always made themselves available should we have ever needed them, but really allowed us to take ownership in our work by letting us fully run the project by ourselves, resulting in a deeper sense of accomplishment when our work was completed.”
Sara believes, “The biggest lesson I learned both professionally and otherwise is to never take any accomplishment for granted, no matter how small. On several occasions, Jamie and I could not move forward with our list of daily tasks due to issues such as the cultural perception of punctuality, or the amount of time it took to find, price and buy all of our materials. We learned that our list of tasks was not a practical tool in Uganda and how important it is to be flexible. It's an easy thing to forget coming from a society that really lives by the phrase ‘time is money.’ Patience and flexibility were absolutely necessary for the success of our project.”
Jamie's lesson learned? "You’re not going to get everything done that you want to on any given day. That doesn’t mean you’re falling behind; you’re just learning the pace of Ugandans. The biggest lesson for me was a true understanding of how people in other countries live – and how although it’s different from yours, it’s no worse or better. We all have issues and priorities, and It’s important to be mindful of how they change from country to country.”
Happily, Sara found time to experience the natural beauty of Uganda. “My favorite tourist site was Murchinson Falls National Park. The views and the animals were absolutely breathtaking, and the company we booked our safari with (The Tourist Center off of Main Street, next to the post office in Jinja, in case you find yourself there soon!) were extremely friendly and accommodating.”
The benefits Sara enjoyed went beyond the aspects of work and culture. “FSD has given a greater sense of self,” she says, “and I now feel like I can adapt and thrive in almost any kind of environment. I learned how valuable having patience and a sense of humor is when adjusting to a new place and culture, and how to more deeply respect the differences between mine and other societies and cultural customs. More than anything, FSD emphasized the resilience of people living in the developing world. Compared to back home, these people have such minimal resources and opportunities, yet they are some of the happiest and most gracious people I have ever met, with never ending kindness and gratitude. I feel humbled and incredibly lucky to have been a part of FSD.”